Friday, November 18, 2005

The Luxury of Narcissism

The esteemed Shrinkwrapped is conducting an ongoing analysis and discussion of the history of Narcissism, which will touch on "the ways in which the personal and the societal have interacted and continue to interact to worsen the problems that stem from the Narcissistic aggrandizement of the self," and "some ideas on ways to lessen the impact of the societal illness so engendered."

Shrinkwrapped notes that "The obvious first question to address is what is the connection between increased narcissism and the fall of civilization. After all, some of our most overt narcissists reside at the pinnacle of our society. We celebrate celebrity, fill our Senate with preening peacocks, pay six figure incomes to "star" university professors, and have no difficulty cheering for our favorite football players as they do their end zone dance; so, again, what is the connection?"

My first thought, was that unless psychological development has an end point, or "telos," then there is no way to distinguish normal from abnormal development. But the Left actively undermines all hierarchies, including the developmental hierarchy that distinguishes immaturity from maturity. However, through a misunderstanding of Freud, they slipped in a reverse hierarchy back in the 1960's, to the effect that, the more uncivilized you are, the more "authentic" and noble you are. Conversely, if you are a normal, decent person, then you are likely a hypocrite, and there is nothing lower to a leftist. Better an authentic sociopath like Che Guevara, Yasser Arafat, or Mumia Abu-Jamal, than a wretched hypocrite.

One of Marx's predictions was that in capitalistic societies people would naturally become alienated and join the glorious revolution. When this didn't happen, Marxists had to come up with an explanation for why the bourgeoisie seemed so contemptibly content. Major leftist intellectuals like Herbert Marcuse and N.O. Brown developed a bastardized version of Freudianism to argue that people only imagined they were happy, but that they were actually living "inauthentic," repressed lives. In order to be "real," they had to express themselves in an uninhibited and unrepressed manner. Thus followed the idealization of the primitive in all its many forms.

This is why entertainers, leftist intellectuals, and the upper classes always play at "downward mobility"--anti-establishment attitudes, veneration of the instincts, body mutilation, profanity as a sign of authenticity and passion, etc. For them the results aren't so devastating, but for people on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum--urban blacks, for example--the results are catastrophic. For example, with the dearth mature and stable fathers, boys are given no model of mature manhood to strive for. In fact, by spontaneously expressing sexual or violent impulses, they are already at the apex of the leftist developmental model, which is what the old model started with: a narcissistic baby with unlimited desires on one end and no responsibility on the other end.

I sometimes wonder how much the increase in narcissism may be attributable to the fantastic increase in wealth and prosperity in the West over the past 100 years, leading to previously undreamt of levels of affluence, leisure and comfort for the average person. In other words, before 100 years ago (and even 40 or 50 years ago), people were too busy working, subsisting, and dealing with pain, illness and early death to be particularly self-absorbed. Perhaps there was so much more awareness of the frailty of life that it didn’t occur to most people to exalt something as ephemeral as the individual self.

In a way, the transcendence of religion came more naturally in the past, as there was no reason to elevate our brief sojourn in this vale of tears to the ultimate experience. Until the early 20th century, the average person could expect to be in intense and excruciating pain at some point in his life, and perhaps often in life, because there were no powerful analgesics that were widely available. Very few diseases could actually be cured well into the 20th century.

In his book The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, Francis Fukuyama attempted to analyze the reasons for the dramatic breakdown of social order that began in the 1960’s, not just in the U.S., but in every industrialized Western nation: skyrocketing crime and illegitimacy, erosion of traditional family structures, excessive individualism (in the negative sense of the word, meaning heightened narcissistic preoccupation and self-indulgence, abetted by the weakening of any structures that would restrain or channel the self within traditional bounds or toward some transcendent goal).

Clearly, the extraordinary increases in crime, illegitimacy, and antisocial behavior had nothing to do with poverty, as they began their exponential rise in 1963, during a period of full employment and general prosperity, and when poverty rates began falling dramatically. Consider how much less affluent the United States was in 1945, compared to just twenty years later. Many things people already took for granted by 1965 scarcely existed in 1945: residential air-conditioning, supermarkets, fast food, freezers, dishwashers, ranch style homes, tape recorders and long playing records, let alone the mass mediocrity of television. Only 46% of homes had telephones, and more than 25 million farm dwellers had no electricity. Only a third of adults had cars. Very few traveled by air. Obviously there was no birth control which, by itself, prevented sexuality from becoming too far removed from traditional channels.

Fukuyama considers several explanations for the “great disruption” of the second half of the twentieth century, and one of them has always intrigued me. He begins with the question of why, since culture usually evolves quite slowly, would it undergo a sudden mutation in the 1960’s? He concludes by noting that the change was not as sudden as it appeared, but that it merely took that long for ideas that had been percolating at the upper reaches of society to trickle down to the masses.

It was actually in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that ideas that would come to full fruition in the 1960’s were first discussed among elites, artists and academics, for example, the notion that there were no rational grounds supporting norms of behavior, and that all such restrictions were arbitrary. “Nietzsche’s aphorism, ‘There are no facts, only interpretations,’ became the watchword for later generations of relativists under the banner of deconstruction and postmodernism.” Likewise, behaviorists argued that there was no such thing as human nature (much less "fallen" mankind), that the mind is an infinitely malleable “tabula rasa,” and that human beings could therefore be endlessly shaped by social policy, creating the perfect society. At the same time, antisocial behavior was excused, since people were simply a result of their conditioning.

By the “roaring twenties,” all of the important countercultural ideas and values that would later dominate the post 1960’s world were in play among the well-to-do. However, their inevitable spread through the rest of the population was delayed, first by the Great Depression of the 1930’s, then by World War II and the Korean War. Therefore, until the mid 1950’s, people of necessity had to “concentrate more on economic survival and domesticity than on self-expression and self-gratification, which most, in any event, could not afford.” Of course, mental illness has always existed; it's just that we have so many more ways to express it. I think of someone like Madonna, who, in Freud's day, would have been just a typical hysteric. She's just as sick today, but has the “freedom” to express her sickness by making titillating videos and selling books with naked photos of herself.

So part of the answer to the question, Why are people so much more narcissistic today?, may simply be, because they can be. One of the profound changes that accompanied modernity was that every man became "his own priest." Perhaps the the hallmark of postmodernity will be every man his own god.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Petey Files

This blogging business is finally allowing me to get organized. For years, I've been scribbling thoughts, fragments of thoughts, ideas, and ideas for ideas, in book margins, post its, pads, binders, hotel stationery, napkins, matchbooks, and body parts (mostly my own, which makes them easier to track down).

In rummaging through all this flotsam and jetsam, I also realized how often Petey has been communicating to me in his cryptic way. He'll just just throw stuff out, and it's generally up to me to follow up on it. Today I'm too busy to blog anything of substance, so I will simply give Petey the floor, and leave you with a few examples:

--Petey's immutable meta-law: "bad everything drives out good everything."

--"Job one" of leftists is to attack language. After that, they can reach any conclusion they desire.

--Along these lines, he once said "When language becomes unmoored from reality, evolution becomes as static as a dog's bark." (I think this was in reference to Howard Dean; in fact, Petey refers to Democratc ideas as their "barking points.")

--The culture of victimization doesn't surprise him, since being a victim allows you to share in the perverse but considerable pleasure of your imagined subjugation.

--Petey detests multiculturalism. He's says that "most cultures are just personal error on a catastrophic scale."

--Petey has no respect for leftist professors. He says "they just sow their bullshit ideas. The poor and the stupid have to reap them."

--Back when we were arguing about whether time had qualities, he said, "Don't be an idiot. Clocks measure space, not time."

--Sometimes he can almost be compassionate. One time he said to me, "Don't worry. Eccentricity is just freedom lived."

--When I first began writing about spiritual matters, he thought I was rather presumptuous. He sharply asked, "Why would you, of all people, have fixed opinions about the unknowable?"

--Once when Hillary Clinton popped onto the TV screen, he muttered, "intelligence without light is just cunning."

--He doesn't have a high opinion of the MSM. He calls it "the crazy glue that holds the liberal fantasy together."

--He says "The topology of the body politic is a hyperdimensional phase space containing valleys with no bottom. This is proven by the existence of Al Sharpton."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Joke 'em Out of Their Holes

Do you hate the MSM as much as I do? I remember when journalism used to be the first draft of history. Now it's the first draft of rewritten history.

Ever wonder how the New York Times always gets it so wrong? Believe me, it's not easy. They can only do it because they've got a highly trained team of dedicated fact chuckers. No matter what happens, the media never report anything positive coming out of Iraq. There's a term for this: Reuter's block.

That was some election in Iran, a show of real democracy. Iranian elections? That's what you call a farce only a mullah could love. Speaking of farces, they even had elections in Saudi Arabia. In fact, the winners were serenaded with a chorus of Wahhabi Days are Here Again.

And did you hear the new president of Iran was one of the American hostage takers? That's no surprise. Obviously they wanted to elect a man who was there at the time of their founding fatwas.

And the Iranians are still pushing ahead with their Manhattan Project. Personally, I think they should come up with a different name, since there's already been an Islamic Manhattan Project. It was called 9-11.

Of course, they say they're only developing nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes. Personally I'd feel better about it if Muslims had figured out peaceful applications for rocks and belts. For them, it's a wardrobe malfunction when some boob doesn't explode out of his vest.

I guess we shouldn't worry, because the countries of Western Europe are unified in their opposition to Iran obtaining nukes. In fact, they're calling it the Eunuch Pact.

But the Euros have Muslim problems of their own, like in Holland, where they murdered that film maker and their politicians have to have 24 hour security. Now if someone mentions Dutch Masters, I'm not sure if they're talking about painters, cigars, or Muslims.

And the loony left? Forget about it. Why do they always want to burn the flag at their demonstrations? I'm all for flag-burning, so long as the protester first wraps himself in it.

Their big champion is Ted Kennedy. The move-on crowd is probably too young to remember that Kennedy has always had an unwavering commitment to a woman's right to snooze. Under water.

Then you've got the ACLU fighting to put up a blatantly anti-American monument to the victims of 9-11. I guess they have a point, in that the monument will be a real time-saver. I mean, imagine the inconvenience of having to track down 3,000 individual grave sites in order to piss on them.

Then again, since the monument will be on sacred ground, perhaps the ACLU can sue themselves to get themselves removed. If not, maybe we can all file a classless action suit against the ACLU.

And the ACLU is always protecting Muslims, trying to ensure that they are never, ever offended or inconvenienced in any way, even if doing so would stop terror attacks on our soil. I can see their point. It's racist to discriminate against Muslims just because their skin is thinner than ours.

And it's these crazy ACLU types who try to compare Gitmo to the Gulag. I guess in certain respects the Gulag was better than Gitmo. At least in the Gulag, nobody had to read the Koran.

Are you following the Saddam trial? Pretty weird that a guy who has a taste for putting people through plastic shredders also enjoys eating children's cereal. I guess it's no surprise that he likes Froot Loops, since we know his favorite journalist is Dan Rather.

And the Palestinians are still causing problems, as usual. Did you know that none of the maps in the Palestinian territories show Israel? That's what they mean when they refer to the Arab "roadmap to peace."

Did you know that part of the Palestinian's strategy involves having so many children that they can eventually overwhelm Israel with their population? However, demographers are worried that if the Palestinian baby boom continues, there won't be any babies left to boom.

They say the martyrs are just like every other kid, obsessed with sex. But their parents tell them "Be patient. There'll be plenty of time for girls when you're all blown up."

Hey, at least you don't hear about the Palestinians flushing Bibles down the toilet. That will have to wait until they develop indoor plumbing.

The latest is that Abbas wants to enlist the terror groups for security operations. That makes sense, since the Palestinian police can't be expected to prevent law and order all on their own. And making them police does solve the terrorist problem. Next week Abbas plan to conquer disease by renaming hospitals "health clubs."

And why do they hate us so much? True, if it weren't for US interference, the Arab world wouldn't be is stuck in the fourteenth century. Instead, they'd be mired in the twelfth.

And they're always boasting about how great Islamic culture is -- you know, that they had mathematical geniuses who discovered zero over a thousand years ago. That's fine, but the problem is, they've discovered zero ever since.